Case of the Day: County of Los Angeles Child Support Services v. Superior Court

The case of the day is County of Los Angeles Child Support Services Department v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. 2015). Fernanda Bischoff lived in Switzerland with her child. She brought an action in the District Court of Zurich alleging that Barry Youngblood, who resided in California, was the child’s father. Youngblood was personally served with documents in the Swiss case, but he claimed that “service was defective because the unsigned Swiss order that he received was not a summons and did not identify the court action, the location of the court, how to contact the court, or the name of the issuing judge.” In any event, he did not appear in the Swiss action, and a judgment entered declaring him to be the child’s father and ordering him to pay child support, based on the testimony of Bischoff. The Los Angeles Child Support Services Department registered the Swiss judgment under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. Youngblood challenged the registration, asserting that the Swiss court lacked personal jurisdiction and that paternity had not been determined in the Swiss action.

The Superior Court judge ordered genetic testing of Youngblood. The County objected on the grounds that paternity was determined in Switzerland and Youngblood, if he wished to challenge the determination, had to do it in Switzerland. The County challenged the genetic testing order in the Court of Appeals (I have never understood the California writ system, but in effect the County was petitioning for a writ of mandamus).

Under the UIFSA, there are very limited grounds for refusing to register a support judgment. Non-paternity is not one of the grounds. Lack of personal jurisdiction is, however, a ground for refusing to register a support judgment, and Youngblood made an interesting argument—he claimed that the genetic test was relevant to determining whether the Swiss court had personal jurisdiction, because under the UIFSA, personal jurisdiction over a nonresident could exist if the alleged parent “engaged in sexual intercourse in this state and the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse.” But everyone agreed that if Youngblood is the father, then the child was conceived in the United States, not Switzerland. Thus if the Swiss court had personal jurisdiction, it had it for other reasons, and the genetic test was irrelevant to the jurisdictional issue.

That’s not to say that ultimately the California courts will agree that the Swiss court had personal jurisdiction. But that ultimate question was not before the court. The end result: the appellate court granted the petition and ordered the lower court to vacate the genetic testing order.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

2 thoughts on “Case of the Day: County of Los Angeles Child Support Services v. Superior Court

  1. Hi, Ted!

    You may not understand California’s writ system (about which I know nothing) but I do not understand the County of Los Angeles Child Support Department! It seems they are focused exclusively on winning and wholly unconcerned with justice or judicial economy or conserving taxpayer resources.

    Sure, technically the Superior Court overreached, but a DNA test is a sure way to determine the truth (vel non) of paternity. It is the simplest, most economical and efficient way of putting an end to the litigation. And if Ms. Bischoff is resisting DNA testing, it strongly suggests she is has doubts about whether Mr. Youngblood is really the father.

    1. Stephen, thanks for the comment! I think this was a case about jurisdiction. The supposed father had a creative argument about why the DNA test should be relevant anyway, but the argument didn’t hold water in the end. It seems to me the court got this one right, and not just on a technicality.

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